(ATTN: UPDATES with U.S. military's response, JCS chief's comments in paras 9-10, 15)
By Song Sang-ho and Chae Yun-hwan
SEOUL, March 16 (Yonhap) -- North Korea fired a long-range ballistic missile toward the East Sea on Thursday, Seoul's military said, hours before summit talks between the leaders of South Korea and Japan on pending bilateral issues and regional security.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said it detected the launch from the Sunan area in Pyongyang at 7:10 a.m., and the missile, fired at a lofted angle, flew some 1,000 kilometers before splashing into the sea.
It appears to be a "projectile" akin to the North's newest intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the Hwasong-17, with chances slim that the North shot a solid-fuel ICBM, according to a Seoul official who requested anonymity.
The recalcitrant regime previously fired a Hwasong-17 ICBM last November. The ICBM is known to have a range of over 13,000 km, long enough to target the continental United States.
Last month, the North fired a Hwasong-15 ICBM, which Seoul believes has a range of longer than 10,000 km.
"The intelligence authorities of South Korea and the United States are conducting a comprehensive analysis in consideration of recent movements related to the North's missile development program," the JCS said in a text message sent to reporters.
Soon after the launch, JCS Chairman Gen. Kim Seung-kyum held virtual talks with Gen. Paul LaCamera, the commander of the South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command, and reaffirmed the allies will further solidify their combined defense posture against "any North Korean threats and provocations," according to the JCS.
"We strongly condemn the North's series of ballistic missile launches as an act of significant provocation that harms peace and stability not only on the Korean Peninsula, but also in the international community, and a clear violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions," the JCS said, urging the North to immediately stop such launches.
The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command called on the North to refrain from any further "unlawful and destabilizing" acts.
"The U.S. commitments to the defense of the ROK and Japan remain ironclad," it said in a press release, referring to the South by the acronym for its official name, the Republic of Korea.
Later in the day, President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida plan to hold a summit in Tokyo, in which the North's nuclear and missile threats are expected to be high on the agenda.
The North's growing nuclear and missile threats have created fresh momentum for Seoul and Tokyo to move beyond their historical feuds and work together to confront the security challenge.
The latest launch came amid the ongoing South Korea-U.S. Freedom Shield (FS) exercise. The North has decried the exercise as "preparations for a war of aggression" and threatened to take "overwhelming" action against military activities by the allies.
The North's tough rhetoric has stoked concerns that it could ratchet up tensions with more powerful provocations, such as a solid-propellant ICBM test, the launch of an ICBM at a standard angle and even a nuclear test.
Meanwhile, JCS Chairman Kim visited a ground component command, a wartime unit formed to conduct the FS exercise, and stressed the need to ensure readiness to "obliterate" the enemy's will to wage war.
The North fired two short-range ballistic missiles Tuesday and what it claimed to be two "strategic cruise missiles" from a submarine two days earlier. The launches were seen as a response to the FS exercise.
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